Date: Oct 3 2015 Saturday
Route: Unique Rongai Route
Destination: Mawenzi Tarn to School Huts
Duration: 3hours walking (+ 1hour acclimatization hike)
Elevation Gained: 420m (1,378ft)
FitBit Steps: 23,392
FitBit Calories Burnt: 3,931
(If y’all missed it – here is my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 3)
Day 4 was the start of a twist on our original itinerary and one of my favourite days on the trail…. the original plan was to leave Mawenzi Tarn and make our way up and then down again into Third Caves Camp on day 4, then walk to School Huts Camp on Day 5, and make our attempt for the summit at 1am on Day 6. This original route really put in place the climb high and sleep low theory that is meant to be the key to avoiding altitude sickness to give us the best chance at the summit. However, the day prior, our Guides suggested we consider another unique twist to our already ‘Unique Rongai’ route.
The new, suggested Unique-Unique Rongai route had us skip Third Caves Camp all together and instead make our way straight to and up to School Huts Camp on Day 4 and then make our summit assault on Day 5 during the day. Our Guides strongly suggested this would give all 7 of us the best chance at reaching the summit.We chatted about it as a team and everyone was on board – oh my goodness we are going to summit Mount Kilimanjaro tomorrow! eeeeeeek butterflies!
The decision for me was not too tough. I was a little bit sad that we would be cutting a few kilometers off the trail (yes I know get over it, do I really need more than 84km?) but I was also ecstatic that we would make our summit attempt during the day (I hate walking in the pitch black with a headlamp when you cannot even enjoy and/or be distracted by the sights!). I also liked that we would get to stay in School Huts Camp a second night right after our summit success. This shaved a full 10km off of our post summit hike and I had a feeling I would appreciate getting back into my already set up tent 10km closer!
So our new, unique Day 4 of 7 was to School Huts not Third Caves Camp.
Our day started like any other. Lance and I were up about 5am for his usual lay in sleeping bag and chat with me while I jotted in my journal the details from the day prior. Then around 6am we were up and out of our tents. Either from desperate need to relieve the diuretic pressure, if you know what I mean, or because the sun was coming up and you do NOT miss a sunset on Kilimanjaro – they are a definite highlight of the experience.
7am we were eating our yummy breakfast spread of scrambled eggs, pancakes which are really crepes, millet porridge (which our Guide Leo said is a staple in local breakfasts), sausages which are really hot dogs, toast, jam and peanut butter, mango and pineapple, and all the hot mix drinks you can want. Rough eh?
820am we were on our way. The day was meant to be about 3-4 hours, approximately 8km in distance, sun baking us like crazy, and as usual 98.5 percent chance of rain (as per our Guide Leo who always made sure that even if it looked impossible that there would be any chance of rain, we had our rain gear in our packs).
The first 40mins was a bit tough, it was largely up hill, a little down hill which felt great but don’t get excited, and then back up hill again – repeat. We were walking slow this day. At over the 14,000 foot marker of altitude the air in the lungs was not feeling quite as fulfilling as it was the days prior. Pole, pole (slowly, slowly) was the mantra!
After our up hills, we spent the last 3+ hours walking through the “saddle”. The saddle is a desert like area on Mount Kilimanjaro. The sun was shining and there were hours of not a cloud in the sky. The uninterrupted views of the blue sky were something to remember. I have to tell you there is a different blue to the skies above Kilimanjaro then there is here at home in Canada – more crisp, more blue, more something. Now do not get me wrong; we have some awesome skies here in Canada but wow there is just something different about those in Tanzania. Trust me, check out these photos.
Just like a desert though, your destination looks so close and yet you never seem to get any closer. We knew were were making good time as rocks in the distance would be upon us soon enough. We treated these rocks like break markers. Lance or Paul would crack their backs, the rest of us would load on the sunscreen and lip chap, Lance would hand out hard candies, and then we were on our way again. But the path in front of us always seemed as long as it was before the last break and the camp you could just make out seemed to stay that teeny, weeny size it was when we started.
The temperature was interesting too. The sun was baking us – sun screen applications were happening every break and sometimes while moving, especially on the lips. Yet the wind would whip up to the point of having to hold your hat on your head and chill you right down again. I was doing more wardrobe layer changes than steps it felt like at some points. Water was a big deal this day, from the heat and the dusty wind. I ran out and had to use Lance’s water as back up for the last 40mins. How any of my fellow trekkers had any water left I will never understand – I was so thirsty! Pole, pole and drinky, drinky peeps!
Thank goodness for the conversation as we slogged along. At one point we had a zombie apocalypse conversation. This was serious stuff. Our friendships were solidified this day and if ever the zombies come for us our trusty Kilimanjaro band would know exactly how to support each other to avoid being eaten or worse yet turned into zombies! Basically, we all decided that zombies would not be impacted by altitude sickness as they don’t have red blood cells that can be impacted by altitude. Well they do have blood but its black so we didn’t think altitude would impact black blood. So really we would not be fully safe on Mount Kilimanjaro but because there are so few of us on the mountain its likely we would not be the first target in the Zombie War so we could hang out for a while with our crew, we had a great cook on the trip with us, still needed to summit, and probably had enough protein bars collectively to live 10 years up here!
Also thank goodness for distractions along the trail that brought us out of the ridiculous yet entertaining zombie conversation. Along the path we passed the wreckage of a small plane crash from 2008. The four tourists were killed sadly and the pilot seriously injured in the accident. This is in fact not the only plane crash on Kilimanjaro, seems a few small and large planes have had a horrible fate either getting to close for a great look or coming upon the mountain out of the clouds with no warning. Sad.
12:15pm we came into School Huts Camp finally. I arrived with a nice headache and pesky cough. OK I will be honest the cough was not as pesky as the “grandma” comments my fellow hikers were making every time I went into a wee fit which seemed to be every time I laughed or talked to much. So yes, they happened often as I do talk a lot and laugh even more.
After signing in at the Camp Hut, we made our way to our tents to set up. Lunch was again massive and amazing and sadly all of us thought we were hungry but had no appetite when we actually went to eat something – thank you altitude. Most of us forced what we could down because we knew the calories would be so important to our summit attempt the next day but there was not a lot of enjoyment.
Following lunch was a short break where we all sat in our separate tents listening to a weather system come in that was promising rain, hail and maybe even some snow while waiting for the Guides to tell us its time for our acclimatization hike. Today’s acclimatization hike was important. A few of us were experiencing headaches, I had a cough, and we needed to give ourselves the best possible chance of a good sleep before our big summit day the next morning. So feeling as good as we could was important for all of us.
Back down, we met for dinner and repeated our not hungry but try and eat any calories you can stomach routine. I was feeling much better and ate more for dinner than lunch. The headache I showed up at camp with was gone after our acclimatization hike so all I had left was the annoying cough but with all the dust in the saddle and at camp it was not surprising. I think most of us felt good, and all of us were excited for the next day.
Lance and I retired to our tents early after our briefing with Guide Leo and got all of our gear ready for the next day. We had a 4am wake up call coming our way and the crew wanted to be on the trail by 5am. Getting to sleep was tough with how excited and nervous I was but we both felt ready and looking forward to the summit. The chill in the air and the snow in the night made sure you stayed cuddled in your tent which prompted sleep – thank goodness.
Eeeeeek more butterflies and tummy flips!
(If you are keen – check out my look back on Kilimanjaro Day 5, the Summit)